How Its Done: Chef David Turin Reveals the Secret to his Success
“It’s funny to think that I thought my first restaurant would be my last.”
These are Chef David Turin’s words, 32 years after the inception of what was to be “the one.” After running eight different eateries throughout the 80s and 90s, Turin finally settled down in 2000 with his flagship namesake, David’s, in Portland’s Monument Square. Since then he has opened David’s 388 in South Portland, David’s Opus Ten in Portland, and most recently taking the plunge into the Kennebunkport scene with David’s KPT.
Turin, who is one of the most mild-mannered and amicable chefs in the business, took a moment with me to discuss the nuances and trials of growing his empire without sacrificing his high standards of quality.
Turin says the single most challenging element is “letting control go to other people. I know what I want most of the time and emotionally it’s easier to do things myself, though in reality this is neither possible nor is it a good idea.”
This, of course, means that staffing is paramount. So, first and foremost, Turin seeks out crewmembers with character, followed by work ethic, principles, and dedication. He believes that technique can be achieved through training, but these other elements you either have or you don’t.
Over the years, many times through a process of trial and error, Turin has put the right systems in place – some as simple as having recipes or a map of the refrigerator in different stations available to cooks at all times. These little things add up to maximizing efficiency, which in turn allow staff to spend less time sweating the small stuff and more time focusing on doing what they do best.
“I have a great deal of faith in my staff, I really think we’ve got a wonderful crew. That said, of course, it bothers me sometimes that I can’t be in four places at the same time, but it has nothing to do with the fact that I think they can’t do it without me. It’s more that it feels weird not to be there, like I feel guilty if they have a particularly busy and grueling night and I can’t be there for them.”
This is not to say that Turin has retired from being on the line by any stretch of the imagination. He is in his restaurants during service at least twice a week, in addition to constantly cooking for special events and creating new menus. Cooking is, after all, what he loves and when I ask if there is any particular venue that he prefers to work his reply is “It’s really hard to say, I love Opus so much, but at the same time tossing pizza when it’s super busy is a riot. I can hold my own in any station of any of the restaurants, and I delight in racing the other chefs on prep work. I actually finally got beat in a race to filet a salmon last year so…. Go Dylan.”
When Tim Harrington of the Kennebunk Resort Collection initially contacted Turin about a partnership, there was a bit of hesitation to commit to a venture as far away as Kennebunkport. This meant a lot more time on the road, and a different clientele than that of Portland, but in the end Turin was able to breathe easy regarding his decision to go forward. It has even gone against odds and stayed busy throughout the winter in a very seasonal town, and Turin perceives the future to be “very bright there.”
When I inquire of a unifying philosophy behind all of his projects, Turin insists that the first is to never do anything for money. “If you do it for passion then the money will follow.” He also employs what he calls “Old fashioned values – meaning integrity, honesty, and intrinsic value in the goods and services we offer.”
“But,” he adds, “thirty-two successful years of owning restaurants is truly based on one thing: customer loyalty. Thank you, thank you, thank you to our patrons.”
And that, my friends, is how it’s done.
David’s Monument Square
22 Monument Way | Portland | (207) 773-4340 | davidsrestaurant.com
388 Cottage Road | South Portland | (207) 347-7388 | davids388.com
David’s Opus Ten
22 Monument Square | Portland | (207) 773-4340 | davidsopus10.com
21 Ocean Ave | Kennebunkport | (207) 967-8223 | boathouseme.com